NELHA incubator nears completion

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An incubation center designed to foster businesses in the alternative energy and biotechnology fields is making strides toward completion in North Kona.

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An incubation center designed to foster businesses in the alternative energy and biotechnology fields is making strides toward completion in North Kona.

The incubator building at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority will be ready for move-in by the end of the year. The facility will offer 19 office spaces ranging in size from 200 to 1,200 square feet, high-speed Internet, chilled deep seawater and access to outdoor areas where innovations can be developed and demonstrated. A total of 10,000 square feet of leasable office space will be available, along with 2,400 square feet of common area.

“We’ve had a lot of interest and we’ve just begun marketing,” said Laurence Sombardier, chief marketing officer for NELHA. “Thirty percent of the units have commitments and 20 percent have interest.”

“We think it’s going to fill up fast,” she said. “One of the things most incubators don’t have is outdoor space for energy and marine science demonstration.”

The incubator is being built within the shell of the former NELHA administration building at the Hawaii Ocean Science and Technology Park, with the steel warehouse framing and roof serving to shelter the new construction, said the authority’s project manager Alex Leonard. The interior will be cooled using deep seawater air conditioning pioneered at NELHA.

In addition to the start-up businesses intent on building and demonstrating their products, the incubator will house offices of the High Technology Development Corp. and the Small Business Development Center. Both state agencies will help the center’s tenants with business planning.

Construction on the incubator started last fall, and the administration relocated to the Keena Hale building, where it will stay.

In its place will be 2,400 square feet of meeting space, including a conference room, which will be available to NELHA’s existing 40-plus tenants, an outdoor lanai and a collaborative space where tenants can meet and share ideas.

“West Hawaii is in need of an economic development hub,” said Greg Barbour, NELHA executive director. “We hope that this space will provide a one-stop shop to help businesses innovate and grow.”

The exterior of the building has been completed, and workers for the contractor F &H Construction are installing windows and insulation. Drywall, ceilings, floors and fixtures are next on the list, Leonard said.

“The bones have been built,” Leonard said. “We hope to start the drywall within a couple of weeks.”

The U.S. Economic Development Admin-istration is funding $3 million of the $5.3 million project cost. The state is covering another $1 million, and the balance is being paid by NELHA.

Lawmakers lauded the near completion of the center in a press release. Gov. David Ige noted the importance of the project to helping diversify West Hawaii’s economy. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard said the center will help the state strive toward energy security through clean and renewable sources.

“Creating these innovative incubators in West Hawaii will provide opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators, stimulating the local economy and providing job opportunities for years to come,” Gabbard said.

NELHA, founded in 1974, is one of the world’s leading energy and ocean technology parks, located on 870 acres along the coastline south of Kona International Airport. Projects by different tenants at the site include green technologies, cold seawater research, renewable energy and aquaculture.

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Makai Ocean Engineering, Inc. will move into the second floor of the incubator. The company’s projects include a marine corrosion laboratory, underwater vehicle and deep sea buoy development as well as electricity generation.

Another future tenant, Infrasound Laboratory, is a University of Hawaii initiative which uses very sensitive microphones to track low-frequency sounds in the atmosphere. The listening is part of the international monitoring system of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.

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